I used to think living life to the fullest meant doing daredevil acts, taking every opportunity to try something new, never saying no to something the average person would be terrified of. After living in Germany for 9 months, that perception has changed, sort of. To me now, living life to the fullest means building relationships with people you never would have met, exploring places you never would get to see, and creating bonds within a culture completely different than your own.
Sometimes when I’m sitting in class at my Gymnasium, or eating dinner with my Host Family, or sitting on the train, I think about how different my life would have been if I had declined my acceptance. If I had looked at the year and all its uncertainty and said I couldn’t do it. However, even on the days that were difficult. The days where the sun never shined. When getting out of bed was the hardest thing to do and it felt like whatever I did, it was wrong. I never regretted it.
Moving to Germany for 10 months was the best decision I have ever made in my entire life. I can say that with confidence now because I know the girl who stepped off the plane in August is not the same girl who will be flying home in June. I have seen so much, visited so many places, met so many incredible people and developed an appreciation for people and interactions that was completely unbeknownst to me before.
As people, our interpersonal skills are some of our greatest gifts, regardless of cultural or language barriers we have the capacity to be kind and connect with others. As an Exchange student, it was my job to meet new people, to represent the US through me and make lasting relationships with people who would never have touched my life. This is the most rewarding feeling: to be so happy with someone who might never have crossed your path if you hadn't been in that exact place in that exact moment.
This year I have become a version of myself that is independent, empathetic, and eager to learn. But I am most proud of the way that I have learned how to have courage in the face of immense struggle. I have faced steep climbs this year, moments where I thought I might break. And sometimes I did, but then I put my pieces back together and kept going. It wasn’t easy, not in the slightest. But I did it, proving to myself in the process that I possess so much more strength than I've ever been aware of in the past.
So maybe living life to the fullest is doing daredevil acts. But those daredevil acts look a bit different. Putting yourself out there even though you don’t know how you will be received, saying yes to things you don’t completely understand and doing them anyway. I have learned from 10 months in Germany that living life to the fullest doesn’t mean never hesitating, never harboring some doubt, or never being scared. Living life to the fullest means that you show courage in the face of those feelings and never let them stop you from continuing forward and learning more.